The One Sword

“Your works are miraculous, and your thoughts are exceedingly deep.” (my paraphrase, Psalm 92: 5-6)

In my last blog, I focused on the idea that spiritual principles or truths have a certain paradoxical nature about them. In many cases, they are comprised of two lesser truths that may appear to contradict each other on some level. Yet, as we push past a surface level of understanding we realize that the apparent paradox is what makes them so powerful and life transforming.

One such paradox rests in the relationship between spirit and word. Surely a healthy, unifying tension is meant to exist between the miraculous, spiritual power of God and the definable, applicable word of God. Unfortunately, such tension has been widely replaced, in Western Christianity, by a friction that only breeds disunity. The main reason for this lies in the fact that the spirit and the word do not enjoy equal footing among most Western groups of believers, and the consequences of this are painfully evident.

I don’t have these types of experiences often, but during a time of prayer and meditation, a greater revelation of the proper relationship between word and spirit came to me in the form of a vision. In my mind’s eye, I saw a single sword that suddenly split becoming two. One had a blade of silver and the other of gold. It was so vivid that I knew there was an important message in it, yet for the longest time, its full meaning remained somewhat mysterious.

What I did understand from the start was that the silver sword represented the word or the mentally attainable part of the message of Jesus Christ. It was the aspects of the Gospel our limited minds could grasp and apply to our lives in a practical sense, ultimately defining how we live out our faith and interact with the world around us.

I also understood that the golden sword represented the spirit realm or what we might call the miraculous or the supernatural. It is through such manifestations of the power of God, that we are given a glimpse of another world we know exists, but are unable to fully grasp or see with our natural eyes.

For a long time, I thought the vision was illustrating that Christians needed to learn better how to wield these two swords effectively, yet separately. I reasoned that both represented different approaches, if you will, to a spiritual battle that we are to be engaged in. Indeed, there is a partial truth to this, but the fullness of the message didn’t actually get through to me until years later.

What I have come to realize is that the actual splitting of the sword was the key point of the vision. I believe God was trying to show me that such a division was never meant to happen, and was not by his design. Once I understood this I soon experienced another waking picture or vision.

This time I saw a single double edged sword, with a silver colored steel blade, but when a light source directly hit the blade it reflected golden light. There was an element of mystery about it that was both intriguing and unexplainable. Yet it was physically impressive and powerful. It was forged from the best, and hardest metal alloy, yet it shimmered in silver color, and golden light.

Obviously, no practical sword would ever be made from either silver or gold as both are relatively soft, as metals go. If either sword were actually made they would only be useful as ornamentation. The gold would remain beautiful in appearance as long as it was never actually used, but the silver would soon tarnish even without use. But after some research I discovered a very interesting fact; if one were to combine both metals the result would be an alloy harder than gold that would not tarnish like silver.

Are modern Western Christians guilty of attempting to wield two lesser swords rather than the one greater sword that was originally entrusted to us? Do different traditions favor one of the swords over the other? Do some have a lazy attitude toward the word while others are fearful of the spirit? Do some ignore one or the other, even teaching that the other is no longer for our time or is of far lesser importance?

Evidence that the splitting of the sword was a mistake is ample if we compare 1st Century Christianity with today’s common Western form. For example, if one reads Acts chapter 19: 1-20 we find persuasive preaching and debate, (word) sandwiched between different powerful demonstrations of the miraculous, (spirit).

When the Apostles went out and engaged the culture it was the signs and wonders performed through their hands that opened the eyes and ears of so many. Any attempt to reveal the person of Jesus Christ without the presence of his signature miracles will naturally be far less persuasive.

Equally, if the miraculous had been demonstrated void of a powerful and Holy Spirit-empowered proclamation of who is responsible and what he expects of those who witnessed the miracles, there would have been far less of an impact.

The performing of miracles gave the Apostles a level of credibility they would not have had otherwise. People were suddenly paying close attention and a word effectively challenging the dominating word shaping their thinking could now be spoken with far greater authority.

The one sword is a powerfully offensive weapon that was entrusted to us that we might effectively engage in spiritual warfare. It has the power to break the influence of the enemy over the minds and hearts of people and cultures. Turmoil, unrest and a sometimes violent reaction ensued when the Apostles unsheathed the one sword, but the results were undeniable. If both spirit and word are not presented in one tactical approach there will be no effective challenge to the status quo, and little opposition from both the spiritual and physical worlds.

Sound familiar? Does this not describe a large chunk of today’s Western Christianity that is very reluctant to engage on such a confrontational earth shaking level?

For the first followers of Jesus Christ, there was only one sword. It was understood as one message, brought forth by the persuasive proclamation of the truth of who Jesus was and a powerful demonstration of his power. It was this unified message of word and deed that changed the hearts and minds of so many, so quickly, and effectively turned the world upside down.

I’m persuaded that the recasting together of these two elements is one of the major keys to spiritual renewal in our own time. I also believe that this division has ramifications in many different areas, and is the main hub that so many poor, ineffectual ideas and methods of how to proclaim the Gospel grow out from. Not to mention that it is one of the greatest sources for disunity in the body of Christ. We see a Christianity divided by the confusion created from this unnatural and ungodly division. Many fall into one camp or the other and very few seem able to wield the one true sword effectively.

Both seem unwilling to face the fact that the success of the early church was in large part because they went out and effectively challenged the status quo. When they proclaimed that Jesus Christ was King, while at the same time demonstrating his supernatural power, they were making a bold and powerful political and socially statement that shook the foundations of popular thought and ingrained behavior. It demanded attention because it effectively exposed and then challenged the spiritual forces that were manipulating and controlling the residing culture.

This is precisely what is lacking in most modern forms of Western Christianity. The word focused and spirit focused camps have been content with hanging up their preferred ornamental sword within the walls of their enclaves rather than taking up the one sword that can be effectively wielded for the kingdom. Thankfully there are many signs that this is about to change, and the time for revival and reformation is at hand.

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Avoid the Pendulum Ride?

I’ll admit to getting frustrated when I see people go from one extreme point of view to another. It almost seems inherent for people to gravitate toward extremism rather than finding balance, and this appears to be the case for every stripe and creed, including Christians. It’s a classic case to witness someone who becomes rightfully disillusioned with some extreme form of conservative Christianity gravitate toward an extremely liberal view instead, or sometimes vice versa. In trying to come up with ways to avoid such a tendency in my own life I’ve been considering the reality of spiritual opposites and how it can help us avoid such a pendulum ride.

Brilliantly, all great spiritual truths are paradoxical. When we embrace this truism we will find that we are much more likely to discover a complete picture rather than holding to partial truths. We can see this more clearly by writing down spiritual principles and contrasting them side by side with their seemingly paradoxical twin. It seems to me that finding wholeness, balance, and completeness in life depends on our ability to embrace both opposing spiritual principles wholeheartedly. Our tendency to favor one over the other can have a lot to do with our tendency to be short sighted.

Here is such a list to consider.

Spirit – Word
Mercy – Judgment
Intuition – Knowledge
Grace – Truth
Humility – Strength
Joy – Soberness
Laughter – Weeping
Compassion – Consequence
Passion – Self-Control

We could spend a great deal of time expanding on each of these principles and how they relate and interact with their twins. In my next blog, I will be focusing on one very important set, Spirit, and Word. We will see how favoring one over the other will set us off balance and keep our faith weak and limited. In the meantime let’s look at the others briefly, just to get a feel for how this works.

It reasons that if one favors mercy over judgment there will be a tendency to lean a certain direction in one’s political, religious, and social views. On the other hand if one favors judgment over mercy the exact opposite will tend to be true. This raises the question, is our Creator more a God of mercy or more a God of judgment? Is it possible that he does not actually favor one over the other, but is fully a God of both judgment and mercy? Could it be that these seemingly opposite character traits actually spring from the same source, his love nature?

Indeed he hates sin with a full and complete hatred and does so because of its destructive nature. He knows the pain it ultimately causes his creation, and that is why he must bring judgment. With no judgment on people and nations, the human race would have long ago destroyed itself. Judgment is thus merciful in the big picture of things.

Equally, God’s greatest desire is to show undeserving and complete mercy to the sinner and desires to direct them toward a better path that leads to life instead of destruction. There is always an abundance of warning, ample time for repentance, and multiple opportunities to turn away from destructive behavior. Yet at some point, a merciful God must act to curve behavior or the consequences will be far worse to bear than the judgment.

Also, mercy without God’s judgment would be meaningless. In the absence of judgment, there is no need for mercy. Judgment and mercy may seem like opposites on the surface, but they are in fact inseparably tied together as one.

So it is with each one of these examples in the list above. For example, knowledge and education are invaluable. The more we know the better off we likely will be. Yet we must admit that our capacity for knowledge is limited and extremely vulnerable to bad or incomplete information. In fact highly educated people, especially if educated with an elitist type mentality, can end up becoming idiots of the most dangerous kind. Intuition, through the Holy Spirit, gives us understanding impossible to gain through our limited and woefully imperfect education.

Allow me to touch lightly on the others as well.

Truth can be harsh, but grace softens the blow.

Strength without humility leads to arrogance. Humility without strength accomplishes little.

A joyful spirit void of sober-mindedness can easily cross a line into silliness. A constant Soberness with little joy drains life and energy.

Constant weeping will break the spirit, but constant laughter is only seeking to avoid reality.

Compassion void of consequence for poor choices feeds delinquency. Life would be unbearable for many if not for the compassion of others.

If there was no passion there would be less destructive behavior, yet passion makes life worth living and leads to many great accomplishments. Self-control allows us to steer our passions toward what is good, and away from what is destructive.

In conclusion, when we embrace what may seem at first blush to be paradoxical truths, we end up discovering a much greater and eternal truth. This brings balance, power, and stability to our lives, making us more fulfilled as individuals and giving us a more positive impact on the world around us. It also prepares us to live as future citizens in the greater reality to come.

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Radical Concept for Supporting the Arts

A few years back, I had an epiphany. Perhaps I was going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, but I felt rather inadequate when it came to financial matters. I was discontent in my work, and it looked as though my earning potential had maxed out at a dismal level. Consequently, I was frantically searching for a way to bring an increase. In the midst of this pursuit, God hit me with a ton of bricks. He let me know, without any recourse for doubt, that I was not designed to create wealth. In some ways, this knowledge brought a sense of relief and rest from a great deal of unproductive striving, but, in other ways, it was a bit hard to take. As a product of a culture that tends to build self worth on the amount of money one can earn, doubts about my role in the world broadsided me.

It was not easy to come to grips with the fact that creating wealth was not part of my purpose. In fact, it became clear that I was to live as a Levite before the Lord, which essentially meant I was to gain my living through the generosity of others. In Old Testament hip hop terms, I thrive on the tithe. Though this rather startling message came to me irrefutably, I had no idea what that meant in practical terms. Should I become a Eastern Orthodox priest or, God forbid, a evangelical pastor? I could take neither apparent option seriously. Needless to say, I remained a bit confused for quite some time, though strongly expectant that in time it would all become clear. Fortunately, I think I’m finally starting to gain some better understanding.

Please don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean I’m destined to live a life of poverty. In fact, I’m expecting a great deal of prosperity in the coming years. It’s just that what I do: musician, song writer, and audio and video producer is not the kind of activity that creates wealth in a conventional sense. In other words, people are never compelled out of necessity to purchase what I create.

In fact, the arts, to be seen properly, should be understood as the Sabbath of the professions. All other professions are necessary for the creation of peoples’ tangible needs. However, I create music not so that people can eat or have a better life in terms of material things. I create music so that people can find rest and comfort from their daily labors.

People look to the arts for retreat and refreshment. They spend their hard-earned dollars in exchange for a time of escape from the rigors of life. The idea of Sabbath is not about going to church or synagogue—though such activities can surely be a part of what makes up a time of Sabbath. Our culture has made it about attending a service on Sunday morning, but the original idea is all about rest. It’s about consciously setting aside time to cease from labor. To have full effect, it should be used as a time to reflect on what is important and what will last beyond this temporary, earthly experience: God, family, and community. In essence, relationships. It is also a time of thanksgiving and worship to the Creator, the One who gives us power to create wealth, thereby providing for our daily needs in the here and now.

My job is to aid people in that process. The best thing an artist can do is to provide works that inspire people to reflect on those important things. The best movies, the best books, and the greatest music provide more than escapism or mere entertainment. They hit us at a gut level and move our hearts; they draw us closer to the things that bring true significance to life. They should give us meaning to our labors beyond mere material gain, and thus instill a deeper purpose and the strength to carry on.

With that said, I take back all I just wrote about the arts not being essential. The arts may not be necessary for survival, but without them we would lack the inspiration, and creative energy to thrive.

In the Old Testament, the tribe of Levi was not given land as all the other tribes were. Instead, they spread their homes amongst the other tribes. Nor were they allowed to own large tracks of land that would have enabled them to farm, thereby building wealth from the earth. They were, in fact, largely dependent on the other tribes’ tithes to support them. The obligation of the Levites was to serve in the temple. There were many specific roles to this, one being the creation of music to serve as daily worship in the temple.

Today we think of the arts more in terms of entertainment and recreation, and most entertainment we pay for does little to inspire us towards thinking of the eternal or harboring a restful mindset. Shouldn’t the art that meets a higher purpose deserve our special support? In fact, should it not be part of our regular giving? I’m not talking just about so-called “Christian” art, rather any work that inspires us to focus on what is good and lasting—any creative production that ultimately draws us into a state of contemplative rest and worship to the Creator.

We tend to think that our giving should directly effect our local church, either that or some ministry that is helping to feed the poor. This type of giving, of course, is necessary, but how often do we think that giving to an artist is also a legitimate form of tithing? Do we realize that supporting an artist, one who provides worthy and uplifting works of art, is giving place to the Sabbath in our lives? Do we ever consider that part of our tithes should go toward the purchase of quality movies, music, or art that cultivates rest and worship?

Few of us do. Even as an artist I must admit that I have not really thought this way, and am only now considering the power of such a mindset. Why would we think this way when the vast majority of art in our culture is hardly worth consideration? But, perhaps, if we harbored such a mindset and sought worthy art to support, it would help to change that reality.

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A New Kind of News Media

After the shooting tragedy in Connecticut I watched about a half hour of news just to get the basics of the story, but then I had to turn it off. Not because of the horrific nature of the event itself, but because of the way it was being reported. Much of the main stream news media seems to be reflective of the ideals and attitudes of the worst side of our culture. I want to be informed, but the spirit in which the news is being dished out to the masses has becoming increasingly repulsive to me. It’s sensationalistic, condescending to its audience, and disrespectful of those they use to help tell the story. Most of the reporting is plagued by a smug overconfidence as they pretend to be just reporting the facts.

But it has gone beyond an obvious agenda and bias. It now reflects a complete paradigm shift into unapologetic secular thinking. Reality has been fully redefined and it no longer includes any place for God, or the faith that originally shaped who we are as a society. The twisting of what is normal, of freedom, of justice, of civility, and what is acceptable within public discourse is complete. Those who run most of the main stream news media outlets no longer understand or perceive any need for a different perspective, because in their minds there is no other perspective. They have swallowed the whole postmodern package, hook line and sinker, and there is no mental capacity left to consider alternatives.

Unfortunately many consumers of news seem resigned to live with a steady diet of this. Their stomachs have, to some degree, adjusted to the indigestible gruel of poor reporting, the insatiable focus on negativity, and pointless antidotes that go nowhere, and mean nothing. It’s an endless circle that is mind numbing, and disparaging to the human spirit. It appears desperate in its attempt to convince people that they must learn to live comfortably with contradiction. However, existing in such a conflicted state is not possible for long, and unless things change it will eventually succeed in ripping the very fabric of our society to pieces.

We need a new media to rise up as an alternative to what is currently dominating our source of information. We need reporters who will focus on finding more good positives stories that encourage and edify. There is a need for a perspective of hope and the nurturing of an overcoming attitude even in the midst of accurately reporting the darkest, most disturbing events. The source of such news can only come through those who see the world from a higher perspective than the majority of our present news media. People are starving for this kind of approach, and I believe it will be received eagerly. Indeed, for the sake of our future it must come, and come soon.

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Surviving the Coming Prosperity

The common belief among many Christians is that America is in serious moral, economic and, political decline. This is clearly true in many respects. After all it’s not difficult to show that moral erosion is happening at a growing rate, at least as far as our pop media culture is concerned. And in light of the most recent elections the ideas of individual liberty, economic, and political freedom are certainly showing signs of slipping even farther from our grasp.

Some believe that this decline may create a social and economic crises that will wake up our culture to their need for God, and perhaps even create religious persecution that will help spark spiritual revival. It is true that persecution and hard times always ends up producing a healthier Christian community. It’s also true that living in a society that is wealthy and does not, to any serious degree, persecute believers, has a tendency to cause those believers to drift into a state of spiritual apathy, even idolatry, and moral license. This is the historical norm going all the way back to the ancient Hebrews of the Old Testament.

Considering where we find ourselves today one would think that the time is ripe to enter just such a period of economic downturn and even more blatant hostility toward Christians.  In light of the current political trend, greater hostility for people of faith certainly seems more possible than ever before, but economic collapse may not be as certain. At least not in the short-term. In fact I believe we are likely on the edge of one of the greatest economic booms this country has every seen. Yes, even with an expanding socialistic approach to government and economics, that historically downgrades economies, the exact opposite could be about to happen.

There is more than one reason why I believe this to be a possibility  but the biggest, and perhaps easiest to explain and argue is that America, within the next couple of years, will become the world’s top producer and exporter of fossil fuels. The development and building of the infrastructure to support this is now underway. When all the systems come on-line for accessing, processing, and transporting the abundant oil and natural gas that is under our soil the result will be lower energy prices around the world and especially in the US.

This is likely to ignite economic activity on a scale not  seen for decades. The force of this economic boom could be so great that even the higher taxes and redistribution of wealth that appears to be our political future will not be able to slow it down that much. This, as stated, is only one of the reasons I believe we are posed for prosperity. I won’t bother getting into the other reasons, but even if I’m right for this one reason alone I have to wonder what it means for people of faith? After all, historically it is hardship and persecution that most often leads to a healthier faith community. Prosperity, on the other hand, has a tendency to lead to the erosion of faith community. Yet at the same time there are many signs of a growing trend toward spirituality renewal and reform.

What do we do with all these seemingly conflicting signs?

If such prosperity comes, and at the same time socialism continues to creep into the hearts and minds of the population at large, allowing government to expand and gain even more control over people’s lives, where will it eventually take us? What does it mean for religious and economic freedom? Such a boom can not last forever, and when things settle down to a more normal growth rate what will the end result be? Because of all the unknown factors no one can have certain answers to such complex questions. What should be considered however, is that the greatest test for maturity in the Spirit is not persecution, but prosperity. Persecution can help refine us, but prosperity will test us to find out just how refined we really are.

Interesting enough spiritual renewal is not unprecedented during times of prosperity in this country. Both the Azusa street revivals at the turn of the last century and the Charismatic movement rooted in supernatural encounters during the 1950’s took place in times of economic prosperity and religious freedom. More recent supernatural moves of God taking place in Canada and the South East of the United States is having profound effects on the reshaping of lives and culture. Is it possible that God is going to do something very few expect? Perhaps these revivals are only the precursor to long-term spiritual renewal that will happen in spite of our prosperity? Could it be possible that God is raising up people of faith that will grow and move forward in their spirituality regardless of the fact that they live in a land of plenty, void of any real persecution?

I realize that this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but if what I’m saying is correct than the strategy of many to get ready for hard times by buying a farm and stocking up on food might be totally misguided. Perhaps instead we should be preparing ourselves to thrive and flourish in the coming period of growth and expansion. One must ask, “what does that look like exactly?”

First of all it means that we must become focused on what God wants to do in our midst, in our country, and over the whole earth. If there is a time of plenty coming than it is coming so that the Gospel will be spread throughout the world like never before, and so that Christians will rise to take leading roles in prominent and influential places. We should be preparing ourselves to take on the responsibility of being a catalyst, a channel, for a powerful move of God, that not only changes individual lives, but shapes whole cultures and nations.

It means that many of us might actually be called to intentionally look for the opportunity to grow rich for this very purpose, because the resources to reach the world in this manner must come from somewhere. And there in lies the true test. Will we be able to survive that level of prosperity? If we are not equipped spiritually, to the point where the comfort and luxuries of this world hold little sway over us – if we are not mature, good stewards of our finances able to use our money wisely and justly – if we are not the most generous of givers – if we are not sensitive to the Spirit and obedient to his direction on how much and to whom we should give, than the plenty that we gain will likely destroy us, and if it destroys us than it will surely in the end destroy our country as well.

We have some very interesting and intense dynamics at work here. If the recession continues and we even fall into a depression it will likely wake up the American people to the fact that we are doing something wrong and a change will happen in the next round of elections. However, if the current policies of this president are allowed to continue unhindered as a result of an energy boom and vast prosperity the end result would most certainly be disastrous. This, in fact, could be the way America is finally brought down.  From this perspective prosperity is the real enemy. Our countries only hope would be for spiritual renewal to take place at the same time, resulting in a reversal of the destructive moral, political, and economic road we have been going down for the last 100 years.

Could this actually be a time in history when the cycle is broken? Interesting to think about and consider, and certainly something we should be preparing for the possibility of. This may sound like a totally crazy scenario to some, but I believe the signs are all there. The question is, if our future does play out this way will we be ready to take advantage of all the possibilities, or will we let it slip by us because our mindset is on judgment instead of blessing?

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